Mixing fact with metaphor since 1990
Setting off from Syria to Lebanon, we were again pretty late (I can't actually remember, but I'm assuming it was based on previous records as well as the fact it was about midnight when we got into Tripoli), and had a huge hassle of a trip. Apparently there are no buses from Tartus to Tripoli, even though it is just down the highway, so we had to take a bus to Homs and then another to Tripoli, back down the road we came from. We weren't too bothered though as the prospect of getting back into Lebanon was a pretty exciting one, cheap falafel versus expensive bars... The border took ages and another supper of several Lion bars (have limited myself to one a day) and a packet of crisps followed, culminating in a free, month long visa. Our excitement about the arbitrary generosity of the border control only slightly outweighed our disappointment that the stamp was about a quarter of the size expected. I found myself pondering the question of whether it is worth paying £10 for a better looking stamp - well, the passport is sticking with me until 2020 so it could be an investment..?
We finally arrived in Tripoli, and, well, it was a hole. The hotel that BP had recommended us was of course expensive and full, with a locked front door necessitating an expensive public phone call in GCSE French to find out these drearily anticipated facts. Heading next door to a worryingly named 'Palace Hotel', we were relieved to see cracking paint and unisex toilets and settled on the cheapest room they offered. Food, shave, discuss what was to be done the next day, alarm set, banter, alarm unset, sleep. We set off when we woke on a walk around the city, guide-less. What better way to really see the city than by immersing yourself in it and wandering around, rather than only seeing the tourist attractions and none of the real deal? Of course, the recommended monuments were not to be found, and instead we stumbled across endless highways and long concrete walls and sewers. We walked so far that I think we left the city, but the sprawl renders my guess completely unknowable, heading along the beach line. VW Campers with plastic picnic chairs chained to them, presumably for rent, gave rise to Nazi jokes which were quickly silenced after we found one hippie van sporting a picture of Jesus nestled next to another one of Hitler. Bugger this, let's go into the countryside.
Too late to get a bus to Bcharré, we opted to get a taxi and were quickly barrelled into a beat banger by a seemingly aggressively enthusiastic maniac. Well, his driving reflected his mental state and what followed was probably the single most frightening drive of my life. Heading up into the mountains on twisting roads next to an abyss, overtaking a lorry around a corner at 90kph or simply just swinging over to the other side of the road, presumably to get a better racing line for the apex. We looked on, resigning ourselves to the funny side of our imminent doom, until a few too many near misses forced us to plead him to go a tad slower. Our attempts were met with a proud cry of "I'm Schumacher!" and an increase of speed. Highlight of the journey was probably when he was describing how in the mountains the cloud renders visibility pretty low. Of course, language barrier meant that gestures were easiest for conveying meaning - one hand over his eyes to represent clouds, the other hand plunging downwards, pedal still flattened and steering wheel rolling around merrily. He took our shouts of 'no!' for misunderstanding and so was kind enough to demonstrate again a few more times. Somehow we arrived in one piece at the village and deposited outside the hostel. We called him crazy and wished him not to die on the way down, to which he laughed hysterically and roared off. Haven't checked the local obituaries yet..
Heading into our dormitory we met a couple of Canadian girls and an American named Tamara. The Canadians were thoroughly bemused by our excitement at one's complaint of 'having to get another passport in Damascus because the old one was full', and even more by our scouring and judging: "Bolivia, triangular stamp, nice. This page only has one stamp on it, what a joke! Oh, Thailand, minus 10 points." Bunk beds were greeted with glorious vigour at their similarity to pirate ships, but the fleet was disbanded after an old Hungarian couple came in and complained that we were on their bed. Avast, sea dog, and they subsequently left, complaining that they wanted a room to themselves. Land lubbers. The next day we went with Tamara on a great day trek scramble through the Adisha valley, about five hours of stunning scenery, steep cliffs and waterfalls, a river running through the bottom and Maronite monastries built into the caves in the rock. As the day progressed, the clouds came lower, finally enveloping the top of the cliffs so that when we climbed our way back to the road the visibility was about an arms length, as the kind taxi driver had described, and we hitched a ride back in a car still decked out from the driver and his passenger's wedding the previous day.
We had planned to go to Baalbek from here, but the road was apparently much too snowed in to get there so we headed up to the Cedars, the uppermost part of the mountains and at the base of the ski resort. The landscape here was even more stunning with snow-capped peaks overlooked us, with us overlooking the valley below, and cedear trees everywhere reminding us of why the national flag features one. We set up the tent and collected wood from the fire, reminiscing about how long ago it was that we were in Q. Jabar whilst letting Ray Mears down in our consistent wrong identification of which trees were actually dead and which were just pretending, with green on the inside. Scratched arms, inflated masculinity. Heading back down to the inhabited area with a couple of cafes, a quad bike rental ($1/minute, unbelievable!), tat shops galore and a hotel, we found out that in the night it gets down to about -1 and that we would bloody freeze. Haggling at the hotel, we agreed on a price for a tiny room, climbed back up, packed up the tent and had the fire anyway on a hilltop to the setting sun. Night fell and we clambered into our sleeping bags next to the glowing embers and we gazed up at what are the best stars I have ever seen in my life, in every tiny area of the sky there were dozens and the lack of light affecting the vision as well as our height made it breathtaking. Shooting stars aplenty, we discussed in true hippie form how it was so crazy to have wars and kill each other when there was such beautiful enormity emphasising so well the inconsequential futility of it all. Maybe the peace talks should be held on a mountain in sleeping bags, then they'd get somewhere. Why doesn't anyone ever look up any more, man?